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all but the cats write here ... to remember, to share, to mumble, to shout ... follow along by RSS or email if you like.

Filtering by Tag: Florida



Two mornings ago, I came into the house where my family had gotten together for a few days (we slept in the camper in the driveway) and my sister informed me that the boys had made butter before I got up. The Boys would be Fynn and Alex, my sister's youngest son. The two that had been nearly inseparable for a month now, but periodically needed to be separated as they tend to squabble a fair bit … two last-borns competing for attention I think. But, butter! They'd made butter. I found a half pint jar on the table, with a nice golden lump swimming in some cloudy liquid. It didn't appear like they'd used any, but simply had the fun of shake/churning it before I ever got out of bed. I really wish my dreams were as efficient as that.

Not making any sense? I thought not. I haven't been for awhile now … my thoughts churning and flip flopping all over the place, without any real answers or solutions or clarity appearing at all. No buttah, just lots of queasy stomachs and cloudy hearts.

Back when I started homeschooling, my sis-in-law warned me that I'd be confronted with my own issues in ways I never had before, so be prepared. I was a bit baffled, but soon saw exactly what she meant. Time together with someone who has large quantities of the same DNA and spirit and abilities that you do can be utterly maddening, delightful, and problematic. You see yourself reflected, amplified, and not always in the best light either.  No one warned me that this trip would do that all over again, but in deeper and more fundamental ways. That I'd be confronted with memories of all kinds … things I'd buried, feelings I'd stuffed, and wounds I'd never licked. Relationships lost. People I'd loved. Personas I used to be.

Tangled together with all of this is the undercurrent of my mom's continued slide into Alzheimers, and what it means for me and my family as a whole. I'm already utterly uprooted physically, I'm watching one of my foundation stones crumble, and I'm trotting around the country throwing myself into the laps and homes of past friends, new friends, relatives, and all kinds of people who know me directly or indirectly, get a lot of my past, and often have at least a fraction of an idea of who I am and what makes me tick. Lots of mirrors, lots of shards.

Churned, but not seeing much gold yet.

So part of what's made me able to even articulate my current state is thinking back to the 6 weeks we spent on the East coast of Florida, in the Hobe Sound / Jupiter / West Palm Beach area (picking up right where I left off in the last post).  Michael had committed to another Sol LeWitt job a couple of months earlier, so we'd had to prearrange where we'd be when that started. I'd also been invited on a cruise with my sis and friends, leaving from Miami, so parking ourselves on the coast near friends in Jupiter just made a lot of sense.


Michael's job started first, so the day after we got set up in a campground in Hobe Sound, we shipped him off for 12 days of scribbling in NYC. The kids and I settled in, and then went to visit Rebecca and her family … the Rebecca I've known as long as I can remember. My first concrete memory of her is playing on her family's rooftop in Lima Peru, making pea soup out of the pellets we found up there … only to discover it was rabbit turd soup thanks to the abandoned hutches left by the previous owners. I could go on for days … countless long summer weekends playing on her farm in southern IL (driving 4 wheelers all over the place while our dads talked for hours), wandering San Salvador in rattletrap taxis and on foot when our families visited there together in our teens, 3 weeks backpacking in Europe, an infamous spring break in AL that resulted in spending a night stranded in a gym with the residents of an old folks home, after we tried to get home ahead of a once-in-20-year snow storm. Her gregariousness balanced my shyness beautifully … we were always friends.

We drifted apart somewhat in our 20s thanks to a split in the church, and after her wedding we didn't see each other for what turned out to be many years. A couple phone calls, finding each others blogs, and news via friends kept us up on basic life events, but we'd not had more than a cursory conversation in nearly 20 years. I missed her though, and was pretty sure our kids would get along famously if we'd give them the chance. Within 5 minutes of walking into her house, I felt right at home. Open hearts, open book, open door. Picking up for the most part right where we left off.

By the time Michael got back the kids were fast friends, and we'd been woven right into the community she and her husband John have beautifully gathered around them, including going to church with them, and meeting old and new friends there too. Waters I'd barely stuck a toe into for the previous 12 years … but ones that are a huge part of who I am and where I come from. My tribe by birth. The tribe where my real foundation as a Child of God was inadvertently trumped by Child of BTP, Daughter of Don, Granddaughter of Albert, Great Great Grand of A.H. Rule.  Shoes that pinched just a bit too much when it came to my freedom to worship, and so I'd left them on the mat and backed tearfully out the door ten years ago. A massive churning, that was.

So going to church with John and Rebecca was no little thing. Not to my gut, my heart, my history. I dipped a toe in, wondering if I'd get scalded, but trusting too that if Rebecca's heart was representative of what I'd find there, I had nothing to worry about. Love won, hands down. Hearts were just as open as I used to find them … even when my last name and history were figured out … and my fears crumbled. I was met with warmth, understanding that surpassed anything I'd expected, and offers of friendship and work and help.

Lots more Florida pics if you click this photo.

Lots more Florida pics if you click this photo.

Help that I was still afraid to ask for mind you, for fear of taking advantage somehow. Need won out over fears however, and when my brakes failed as I was about to pick up Michael from the airport, I eventually called John and he came right over, diagnosed the problem, took me to pick up Michael, bought parts (and then more parts), and had the burst brake line fixed by the next afternoon. Love and kindness, that was.

Community loves on each other, helps each other, and looks out for each other. Shares when it can, builds when it can, and reaches out when it can. Knits itself into a unit of some sort that functions best when all its parts are working. The church I grew up in excelled at community, and still does in many cases. I missed that almost more than anything, after walking away … it was a huge piece of my foundation. My sense of belonging somewhere, to something bigger than myself. I've found bits of it elsewhere … in a co-op preschool the boys attended in Brooklyn, on our block in NYC in the later years, and in the delightful neighbors we had on the Delaware River in PA. Truly developed communities, that worked together like a family.

So to find community in Florida, in a group I was no longer nominally a part of, was somehow a shock. A heart-twisting one, given that I'm not willing to give up the freedom I have to worship elsewhere in order to 'belong' to that group again. But it showed me I didn't have to belong to contribute, nor do I have to give up what I believe is right. If I love across invisible fences, they have a tendency to disappear. They're only fences if I treat them as one. Love wins.

We left Florida after I got back from a week of utter bliss on a boat in the Caribbean with 3 women whom I adore, and I took with me the feeling that something had healed (in me), something had grown (my hope), and something was breaking (my heart) the more we started wandering north. Alabama and New Orleans and Mississippi and Arkansas and St Louis were all still to come, but each one was a step closer to Chicago, to my folks, and to a year's worth of changes in my Mom.

My beautiful Mom who now needs 24-hour care, is confused often, and has less and less ability to access the memories that are becoming locked in her head thanks to Alzheimers. There's been a guilt war waged in my heart for months now, as there have been hints here and there that maybe I should go be her caretaker as I'm 'free' at the moment. While I don't feel called to do that right now (and my family would have very little of me if I did), I trust that if I am hollered at, I will listen. In the meantime, my inherited and well-exercised tendency to guilt is alive and kicking … some things are hard to let go of, yes?  I'd do well to take notes from my Dad, whose acceptance of what is happening to Mom, and steadiness in the face of constant change and curtailing of his own freedoms, is rather astounding. A glimpse of that buttery gold, methinks.

Carry on, Mr. Bowditch.


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Crossing into Florida was a bit anticlimactic. We'd hoped for warm weather for so long, pinning our hopes on getting to the Sunshine State in order to have it in spades. When we finally crossed the state line and made our first pit stop, I was almost tempted to turn around and flee, despite the abundant and delicious sunshine. I've never been fond of Disney in any way, crowded theme parks ceased to hold much appeal in my early 20s, and we were arriving right at the beginning of spring break season. Not a good trifecta for my curmudgeonly self. We hit the Welcome Center on I-95 and I wanted to hide. Piles of Vacation Mode folks everywhere, kitch and hype and crowds, all things that give me hives. The boys delightedly discovered the free juice counter while I was in the bathroom, and the man handing you a little paper cup with your choice of grapefruit or orange juice in it looked like he'd morphed from a human being into a robot long ago. Jaded, tired, completely sucked dry of any emotion or energy … he did nothing to change my own view of things.

Once we sidled our way over to the western side of the state and dropped down into Palmetto (just south of Tampa), I started to revive a bit. Not a theme park in sight, just piles of trailer parks and strip malls, the promise of a hug from Ann Marie, and the ocean. We camped in an old trailer park within walking distance of our friends' winter trailer, which was bounded on one side by an entrance ramp to the highway, and a busy main drag on the other … convenient, cheap, and frill-free. Mostly full-timers in that park, not seasonals, and we'd barely parked when the neighbor lady next door blew in with garrulous enthusiasm, praise for Michael's mustache, immediate pledges of friendship and libations and great times together, and a fine how-de-do. We'd Arrived! (The libations never did, in fact we barely saw her again during our week there. I think she'd had most of them herself just before we showed up :)).

We found our way over to Steve and Ann Marie's, and made ourselves at home for the evening. They wanted help painting their trailer, and I think the promise of our arrival was as much help as the painting itself, as by the time we came back the next morning to get started, Steve was already attacking the front trim with a paintbrush. We jumped right in, and by dusk we had the entire project done! We'd booked a week at our campground, so the rest of the time was spent sailing, talking, flea marketing, hiking the mangroves and old Indian mounds, and biking and swimming.

The sailing was a delight, and pure entertainment to boot. The first trip out on Tuesday was fairly short due to the tides and light breezes, but as it bore the honor of our first experience ever in a sailboat, it was perfect. Steve has an old 17' boat that he keeps stored in the woods just up the road from his nephew's clam farm, so we helped haul it out of the undergrowth and down the road to the dock where he launches. Life jackets, paddles, maps, water bottles, and the tiller and sails were carried down and stowed. The mast had to be set once we were out a bit from land, as the trees were too low on shore. Steve gave calm and patient directions as we threaded ropes, helped rig sails, and got underway. Fynn's incessant questions were handled with equal patience, and we headed out of the inlet towards the mouth of Tampa Bay.

We circled a bird sanctuary island that was really really cool, and Michael especially was just mesmerized. A mangrove and tree-covered island absolutely teeming with big birds … pelicans, roseate spoonbills, glossy ibis, cranes, egrets, great egrets with their fluffy white tails, anhingas, osprey, and more. Every tree had dozens and they didn't bat an eye as we silently circled the island, staring and hopelessly snapping photos and video, knowing that truly capturing the scene was impossible. Steve, sitting in the back with the tiller in hand, quietly delighting in our delight, and offering bird names as we pointed and asked. The boys got a chance to try their hand at the tiller once we were back in the little inlet where we launched, and declared it a perfect day.

We went out again on Thursday, and Fynn had set his sights on going Fast! And Far! He wasn't disappointed on the Fast! bit, as the winds were better at 10 mph or so, and we started hiking our way speedily across Tampa Bay, taking turns working the ropes, checking the map, and swinging the jib. The sun was peeking out and we were just starting to feel like we had a handle on this sailing thing, when a loud CRACK! invaded the quiet and we momentarily all froze, watching the mast swing towards the water, dip in, and start to drag the sails under. Frantic grabbing ensued by all hands, and with a fistful of sail and cable in my arms, I asked Steve “What's the plan of attack?” It appeared that a mast cable had broken, shearing off a pin holding it in place and sending the mast overboard, though it was still attached by two more cables. Steve's “Well, first we need to secure the mast and sails …” kept us busy for awhile, and after it was determined that there was no way to jury rig the sail, we took them completely off and stowed them in the cubby, and lashed the mast to the side. Upon searching the cubby for the oars, it was determined that one of them had been left in the back of the car, leaving us with one oar, a dis-masted boat, and the closest shore about 1.5 miles away!

We tried rowing by tossing the oar back and forth between Michael and I, but that quickly proved futile. Steve tried tying a bucket to a rope and throwing it ahead of us and pulling it in, while balanced on the prow, but that lasted about 3 dangerous and slippery tosses before being abandoned also. Phone calls were made to the nephew, and to Ann Marie, in an attempt to get someone to come tow us in. In the meantime, the boys were tasked with watching for passing boats and waving life jackets to attract attention.

There was something delightful in the air though … no real dismay or fear, just the excitement of something to Do!, and a Problem to Solve!, and Steve was the one who set the tone for the rest of us. He didn't seem unduly dismayed, more like a wee bit pleased to be honest, and it truly was entertaining! We had water and snacks, we knew someone would eventually see us, or come find us, and the weather was clear and sunny with a nice breeze. Things could be a LOT worse. Just as Steve got his nephew on the phone and was working through rescue options, the boys managed to hail a beautiful fishing boat with two men on board, and they offered to tow us to Emerson Point. As they were getting ropes tossed and tied, I spotted a Tow Boat going by, and was rather thankful that we got help from passers by instead. They kindly towed us as close to shore as the shallows would allow, and we pulled the boat up on the beach there, a spot we'd hiked to just 2 nights before.

We waited there for Ann Marie, who had braved driving Matilda over to pick us up (their car being at the launch point), never having driven anything remotely like her before. There are some benefits I guess to Michael's penchant for leaving the keys IN the truck! I was as proud of her for that as anything … she rose to the occasion beautifully, and I do believe found her own delight in it all.

We parted ways after a week, though I knew I'd see Ann Marie again in a few weeks, as we had a cruise coming up later in the month, together with my sis Martha and sis-in-law Keren. (Tom really rocked it in the birthday department this year!).

That week set the tone for the rest of our time in Florida. Staying away from big attractions for the most part, quiet adventures and misadventures, lots of water and sand and heat, and most excellent companions to hang out with. And nary a Disney character in sight :).

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